(CN) - The Department of Energy's outright denial of California's proposed water-efficiency standards for home washing machines was "arbitrary and capricious" and based on blind adherence to an administrative rule rather than a thorough review of the evidence, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The San Francisco-based appellate panel stopped short of granting the California Energy Commission's waiver of pre-emption under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which would let the commission regulate residential washing machines for water use, but ordered the DOE to reconsider the standards.
Citing the state's ongoing water crisis coupled with its perennial population growth, the California Legislature in 2002 directed the commission to come up with water-efficiency standards for washing machines, the operation of which accounts for some 22 percent of residential water use.
The commission drafted a set of graduated rules based on the ratio of gallons of water used per load to the capacity of a washing machine, claiming they would result in annual water savings "equal to the City of San Diego's current water usage."
The commission petitioned the agency for a waiver in 2005, claiming the regulation was pre-empted by federal law. A year later, the DOE denied the petition, primarily because the commission failed to adhere to a three-year timeline for implementation.
Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge William Canby found the DOE's decision "inflexible" and unjustified.
"The DOE's rejection of underlying analysis and data provided by the CEC, without any consideration of whether this analysis would still hold force if implemented slightly later, was arbitrary and capricious," he wrote.
"The DOE made no attempt to determine whether the analysis provided in the application would reasonably support a waiver, but instead dismissed it as part of an inflexible rule demanding a strict parity between proposed implementation dates and the research supporting the proposed standards."
The timeline argument is unconvincing, Canby said, as the DOE doesn't usually pinpoint a specific date when it will rule on a waiver.
"Because states seeking waivers cannot be prescient as to the date upon which the DOE will approve or deny a given application, some flexibility is patently necessary in order for the petitioning state to provide any analysis that is reasonably timely," he wrote.
Because of its narrow focus on the timeline issue, the DOE never got around to evaluating the data and analysis meant to back up the waiver request, Canby said.
The court also found unconvincing the department's argument that the waiver had to be denied because the commission's rules would make top-loading residential clothes washers unavailable in California, as no top-loading washer exists that would meet the commission's top-level water standards.
"The fact that the market in 2006 has no better top-loader ... does not support the DOE's conclusion that the market is unlikely to have [sufficient] top-loaders in 2010," Canby wrote.
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